Two men and a woman charged with pimping a 17-year-old girl in Grand Forks in 2011 have been offered plea deals that dramatically reduce their possible prison time.
It's a sharp move away from what prosecutors had described as the first human-trafficking charges in Grand Forks County; the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of life without parole.
One of the men Joshua Harry, 27, took the deal Thursday, pleading guilty to promoting prostitution, a lesser felony with a maximum prison sentence of five years.
State District Judge Sonja Clapp accepted the deal, which would lead to five years in prison with two years suspended. He would also serve five years supervised probation and register as a sex offender.
Clapp set Harry's formal sentencing for April 8.
The others charged in the case, Amanda Stewart, 22, and Travis Levar Johnson, now 30, are scheduled to appear Jan. 10 in court when they could accept similar deals.
Jason McCarthy, the Grand Forks County assistant state's attorney who appeared at Harry's and Johnson's hearing Thursday, said the plea deals are justified.
"Our objectives are still taken care of, with pleas to felony charges and significant time of incarceration," he said after the hearing.
Johnson, through his attorney David Ogren, on Thursday won a week delay on formally accepting his plea deal. Ogren said the exact terms of the charges against Johnson -- who, unlike the other two, also faces a lesser felony of corruption of a minor -- need to be worked out.
Johnson is accused of first soliciting the girl to engage in prostitution in late 2010 and, when she agreed a couple months later, he required she first have sex with him, McCarthy told Judge Clapp.
The prosecutor said Johnson introduced the girl to Harry and Stewart in the parking lot of Red Ray Lanes on South Washington Street and they quickly took her to her first "show." The girl said over about three months, she had sex with several men, including a UND professor and a high school counselor. She said Stewart collected the money and later shared it with her, according to court documents.
Harry, the documents say, advertised the girl and other women in partially-nude photos online, including at Backpage.com, the controversial website criticized by many law enforcement officials for facilitating the sexual trafficking of minors.
Court documents list Backpage employees, as well as representatives from cell phone companies as possible witnesses.
This fall, another Grand Forks woman, who is 21, turned in a laptop computer to police, saying Harry had left it with her in July 2011. The woman said Harry also pimped her out in Grand Forks and in St. Cloud, Minn., using online ads.
Grand Forks police in November obtained a search warrant to examine the laptop, seeking evidence of what they called the prostitution ring Harry ran.
Court documents do not reveal what was found, but it appears prosecutors offered Harry, Johnson and Stewart deals shortly after the search, according to court documents and what was said in court Thursday.
The details of the plea deals, including sentencing, likely will vary among the three defendants, attorneys said, but the basic deals are similar.
Harry and Johnson have been in county jail for months on separate charges and under $50,000 bail on the trafficking charges. They each have several previous felony convictions.
Stewart got a bail reduction this fall and is out on bond; she has no felony record in the state.
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